Cutting through the bullshit.

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

'A right way to help Israel'

A week ago, I got an automated email from advising that their bots had detected that my blog was spam and a human being would review and unlock my blog within one working day. Four days later, I got another automated email advising that my blog had been unlocked. It wasn't true and blogger has declined to answer my emails, so here I am.

The purpose of this blog is to document my reactions to what I read and other stuff I'm thinking about. I might put accounts of my adventures here, or I might put them elsewhere. I intend to upload my previous blog entires, stale though they may be, over the next few days, along with more current stuff. As I am currently relying on a bodgy dial up connection and will be travelling of the next few weeks, posts could become sporadic, but I'll do my best to keep it current and hope that things will settle down in October.

Meanwhile, here is my reaction to a NY Times editorial from 29 July:

Today’s Times had a doozy of an editorial. Anybody would be forgiven for needing reminding that the mainstream media pride themselves on their fairness and balance.


A Right Way to Help Israel

Published: July 29, 2006

There is a difference between justified and smart. Israel’s airstrikes against Hezbollah targets are legitimate so long as Hezbollah wages war against Israel and operates outside the control of the Lebanese government. But the air campaign is now doing Israel more harm than good.

Now I’m no expert on the laws of war, but my understanding is that the UN Charter provides for:

the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. (Article 51)

Now I am still awaiting conclusive evidence that Hizb’allah took those two Israeli soldiers prisoner on the Israeli side of the border. If they did, then presumably that would constitute ‘an armed attack’ in the terms of the Charter. If not, then Israeli has no claim that its response was legitimate.

On the contrary, Israel’s attacks throughout Lebanon would then provide the Lebanese government grounds to react. Hizb’allah is not a state actor, so the UN Charter accords it no rights in this context. This reflects one of the fundamental failings of the whole concept of the UN – only nation states are represented and have granted themselves rights denied to other instrumentalities which may in fact be more representative of actual people than the state with jurisdiction over the relevant territory. This may be the case in Lebanon.

But even if it was legitimate to respond, the legitimacy would certainly be constrained to the ‘Hexbollah targets’ the Times speaks of. Of course in reality, Israel has not restricted itself to striking at carefully identified targets. They have lashed out at clearly marked civilian targets, including, of course, a UN observation post, which they shelled and rocketed for hours, despite pleas to desist.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this paragraph is that the Times is expressing concern about what will do Israel good or harm. They don’t bother offering their sage advice to Hizb’allah, or to Lebanon.

A better answer to the Hezbollah problem would be an immediate cease-fire, paving the way for an international force to patrol Lebanon’s southern border. That is what Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair, was pushing for in Washington yesterday, and there were signs that President Bush may be finally coming around.

It is of course Hizb’allah that is the problem. There is no question of Israel being a problem to anyone, notwithstanding its well established and well deserved reputation as a rogue state that acquires territory by conquest, subjects the indigenous population to permanent military occupation, and violates every guideline for the behaviour of occupying powers in the Geneva conventions, not to mention all the UN Security Council resolutions.

An international force, the Times opines, should patrol Lebanon’s southern border. It would never occur to the Times, the UN, Tory Blain, or anyone in their right mind to send an international force to patrol Israel’s northern border, if there was one, that is, and prevent Israeli incursions across it.

The Turkish paper Milliyet was purported to have claimed this morning that a large number of British troops were massing in Cyprus, presumably in preparation to participate in this force. But this brings us back to the attack on the UN.

On this occasion, unlike the previous one, where a Ghanaian UNIFIL soldier was murdered in his home with the rest of his family, at least Mr Annan grew sufficient spine to object, and even accuse Israeli of targeting the installation deliberately. It does him no credit, however, to have accepted Israel’s cynical apology. Just as on the beach in Gaza all those weeks ago, they were just lobbing shells, but never meant to do anyone any harm.

For more than two weeks, Mr. Bush has been playing for time, declining to join calls for an immediate cease-fire so that Israel can continue its military actions. Israel and the administration are right to argue that a cease-fire alone cannot provide a lasting solution. But if Washington is now prepared to exercise diplomatic leadership on behalf of Israel’s security, rather than simply run interference for Israel’s military operations, a cease-fire now could become the first step to a more lasting solution.

Did I miss something? I thought the point of an immediate ceasefire was to minimize harm to the Lebanese civilian population, who are bearing the brunt of Israel’s wanton attacks and will continue to bear it for years to come, while they dig up their relatives’ remains, rebuild their demolished infrastructure, and clean their beaches. The green sea turtles, however, may never recover from the oil spills, nor the ancient forests burning out of control. The Lebanese may have to redesign their flag – a pile of ashes, perhaps, to replace the cedar. No doubt it would provide some relief to the Israelis scurrying to Eilat or down in their bunkers, as well.

The lasting solution, if any, would come about through diplomacy exercised in the calm of the ceasefire. But of course a lasting solution to anything in the Middle East is hardly likely to eventuate as long as Israel perches on its edge, noisily rattling its nukes.

‘There’s no peace without justice’, the saying goes. And it’s not just because oppressed people will never give up fighting until they get justice. It’s also because peace without justice isn’t really peace, unless it’s the peace of the grave.

I will reserve my thoughts on what justice would entail in this context for another post.

The glaring flaw in the administration’s logic is that there is no way that even weeks of Israeli airstrikes can eliminate more than a fraction of the 12,000 rockets Hezbollah is believed to have in Lebanon. And more weeks of television screens filled with Lebanese casualties, refugees and destruction would be a propaganda bonanza for the Hezbollahs and the Hamases, and a mounting political problem for the Arab world’s most moderate and pro-Western governments. Whatever a major Israeli ground offensive might achieve in military terms would have far too steep a political and diplomatic cost. Israel’s 18-year occupation of Lebanon brought no lasting gains, and few Israelis are eager for a repeat.

It goes without saying that whenever people suffer and the tv cameras capture it, ‘the Hezbollahs’, whoever they are – presumably anybody ‘we’ don’t like, at the moment, enjoy the good press it gives them. It’s irrelevant to the Times that the people are suffering. What’s important is the cost to the perpetrator. It’s quite possible, however, that ‘the Hezbollahs’, like normal people, actually care more about the real effects than on the media coverage.

It’s worth mentioning that it matters a great deal what it is that goes without saying. For example, if I were to say something like, ‘Fred’s phone works, but mine is stuffed’, it would be because I feel I can safely assume that you know what it is of mine that is stuffed. It’s ‘old information’ that you already know from earlier in the sentence.

But sometimes the old information has a source outside the sentence altogether. ‘Common sense’ and other widespread assumptions can insinuate themselves into a discourse unnoticed. Manipulating the addressee’s view of a situation through what is left unsaid is actually one of the most subtle and insidious forms of propaganda.

What is needed, as almost everyone now agrees, is a strong international force, including well-armed units from NATO countries, to move into southern Lebanon as quickly as possible. Its mission would be to disarm Hezbollah in accordance with U.N. resolutions, thereby reasserting the sovereignty of the Lebanese government and preventing further attacks against Israel. An immediate internationally imposed cease-fire would spare Lebanese civilians from further suffering.

All of a sudden the Times is concerned about the sovereignty of the Lebanese government, which doesn’t seem to have been a significant issue during the 18 years of direct Israeli military occupation. Obviously, the primary function of the well armed force is to disarm Hizb’allah and to prevent ‘further attacks against Israel’. Again it goes without saying that Israel poses no threat to the Lebanese, notwithstanding the current ongoing attacks and a long history of contempt for the sovereignty of the Lebanese government and the wellbeing of the Lebanese people within living memory.

Yesterday, there were some encouraging signs of movement in this direction, with Mr. Bush sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice back to the Middle East for the weekend and calling for a multinational force to be dispatched quickly. A United Nations meeting to discuss such a force has now been moved up to Monday.

As soon as Monday! Only three weeks into the bombing! Just imagine the UN Security Council sitting on its hands for three weeks following, say, a Syrian attack on Israel.

The pressure for bringing in an international force should now be coming from American diplomacy, not Israeli airstrikes. If Washington is about to come off the diplomatic sidelines to which it has foolishly consigned itself for the past two weeks, it will discover a real opportunity to help Israel’s security, America’s international image and pro-Western Arab governments.

And those are the things that count. Two paragraphs back, the Times shed crocodile tears for the suffering of Lebanese civilians. But now their true colours shine through. Lebanese security, much less Palestinian security or Iraqi or Iranian security, is not even on the agenda. Anyway, what’s another couple of days of bombing and shelling and missile strikes against ‘Hezbollah targets’ that just happen to be Red Cross vehicles, UN peacekeepers, and civilians fleeing under instruction from the invaders.

As for America’s image, I’m not sure there is any way to restore it, but if Mr Bush wanted to try, he could start by sacking the cabinet and the vice president, then resigning himself. Obviously it wouldn’t do to leave Mr Cheney and his henchpersons there to run the show. He could end the military and other aid to Israel and shred his ‘signing statements’ and… Oh, and he could bring the troops home from Iraq, too. But then I guess he’s not really all that concerned about ‘America’s international image’.

Pro western Arab governments look like needing all the help they can get. The people they are busy oppressing under US tutelage may have finally had enough. Boy would I like to see the Saudi monarchy and their ilk get their just deserts!

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